Control board officials Monday gave a scathing critique of city and school district management, describing bureaucracies that are paralyzed by inaction and lack of accountability.
Three top control board officials leveled some of the harshest criticism at management policies since the oversight panel was created 15 months ago. The comments came during a 70-minute meeting with The Buffalo News' Editorial Board.
"I'll make a bold statement," said control board Chairman Thomas E. Baker. "There's no management in the city. There's no management in the school system. No effective management. Not enough of it."
Control board Secretary Richard M. Tobe decried what he views as an accountability void in city government, claiming it even permits misdeeds by some employees to go ignored. How often does one hear of city workers being fired or disciplined, Tobe asked.
"Every single action of misconduct gets covered up," he said. "There's no accountability at all."
Control board Executive Director Dorothy A. Johnson talked about bureaucracies that are bent on preserving the status quo.
"Everyone is so entrenched in the system that the managers believe they can't make changes," she said, adding that state labor laws and other restrictions are often impediments to change.
Control board officials cited numerous issues they view as evidence of poor management. They include a 10-month delay in hiring a permanent fire commissioner, and a decision by three top managers in the Police Department to sue the city and the control board to try to get the same $5,000 pay raise that rank-and-file officers received.
Some City Hall sources view the control board's intensified criticism as an effort to prod Mayor Anthony M. Masiello to shake up management in the Police Department. Masiello wouldn't speculate on the board's motives, but he made it clear that he won't be pressured when it comes to personnel decisions.
"If they want me to pound my chest and prove my manlihood by firing people at their will, my response is that I'm the mayor," he said.
Masiello, who sits on the control board, added that he was surprised by the intensity of remarks made by Baker and others. He cited recent strides that include transferring maintenance duties for city parks to the county and putting all city employees under a single health insurer.
"We've made Herculean efforts to reduce personnel and cut costs while still maintaining services," he said.
The school district did not escape criticism from the control board, as Baker and others cited the need for improved management. They said it will be critical for the district to continue downsizing to reflect declining student enrollment.
School district spokesman Andrew Maddigan said officials "couldn't disagree more" with claims that the Board of Education lacks proper management OVER 41 LNscontrols. He pointed to a recent letter from the Council of Great City Schools that praised the district for "aggressively" embracing reforms. Maddigan also noted that district math scores have increased for the third straight year.
"From an academic perspective, the district is definitely moving in the right direction," said Maddigan.
Baker did give some praise to the Common Council, claiming lawmakers have been a "pleasant surprise." He said Council members put the control board through some "day-to-day hoops."
"But they haven't been the obstructionists they could have been," he said.
Last week, the control board released its first annual report, a document that concluded the panel "hit the ground running" and has laid a foundation for helping Buffalo to achieve long-term fiscal stability. At a news conference, Baker gave city officials credit for taking some difficult steps to help improve finances.
But he also raised some red flags, including concerns about lawsuits launched by most city and school district unions to try to lift a wage freeze that the board imposed in April.
Baker conceded Monday that if the board loses the court fights, it will be a potentially crippling blow. "We would have no teeth of any significance," he said.